“For my appeal of a denial of unemployment benefits, should I point out that I am receiving COBRA subsidy, which makes no sense?”

Question: I was recently forced to leave my job, and I applied for unemployment benefits. My employer fought me on this, claiming I voluntarily quit my job. The state unemployment department denied me unemployment benefits. I am appealing.

There is a contradiction in how my employer seems to be treating my departure. For the state unemployment authorities, they claimed I quit voluntarily. However, they are also paying me the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010 (“ARRA”) COBRA subsidy of 65% of my health insurance premium, even though the law says that only people who lose their jobs involuntarily are entitled to this.

Should I raise this inconsistency in my appeal of the denial of my unemployment benefits?

         Helen 
         Brooklyn, New York

Answer: Helen, there are two big reasons I don’t think raising the inconsistency would be a good idea.

First, the unemployment authorities care about just one thing: did you leave your job voluntarily or involuntarily? Nothing else really matters to them. While it might seem to you that the “inconsistency” suggests that your former employer has acknowledged that you left involuntarily, I don’t think it will convince the unemployment people. I think they will say, “We are not experts on ARRA. We don’t care about ARRA. For all we know, the employer made an error with ARRA.”

Second, I am concerned that, if you raise the issue of the ARRA COBRA subsidy you are receiving, then you just might end up (a) having your former employer stop that subsidy on the basis that it made a mistake giving it to you in the first place, (b) having your former employer demand you reimburse them for the ARRA COBRA subsidy you have received in the past, and (c) also ending up with no unemployment benefits. That would probably spell disaster for you.

If you want to win your appeal, I suggest you focus on just that. Gather up and submit any and all forms of evidence of involuntary, forced, or coerced departure, such as (i) witnesses of hostile or abusive treatment, (ii) a letter from a doctor saying that your work made you sick, (iii) emails in which your employer threatened your health or safety, or (iv) similar facts, events and circumstances that would make an unemployment examiner say to himself or herself, “That sounds like a forced departure to me.”

That is how I see it. Hope it makes sense to you. 

           Best, Al Sklover

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© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.